19 / 02 / 18

It all starts with an idea (First beekeeping season part 1)

The times when beekeeping was associated only with seniors and a grandpa in the countryside wearing a hat and a white jacket who takes out honeycombs from the hive are long gone. Bees and their role in our lives are no longer a feature of low-circulation trade press. Apiculture has already established its place in cities. The importance of bees is not only taught to children at schools but also widely discussed in the media.

There is much more to our knowledge of bees than just jars full of fresh honey on a stand along the road or noticed for a second on a shop shelf. Perhaps not everyone realises that the jar of honey embodies the culmination of a long-lasting process and plenty of effort of both the beekeeper and the bees.

One day, following an impulse, a need to take co-responsibility for the environment, an intent to continue the passion of your grandpa or uncle or simply for the need to have your own honey, you decide to set up your own apiary . The reason behind the idea largely determines the kind of apiary you will have .

Types of apiaries.

An amateur apiary includes only a couple of beehives. Honey produced by such an apiary is fully used for the beekeeper’s own purposes. Such an apiary is kept for your own satisfaction and pleasure, and is most often located next to the keeper’s house, enabling him or her to rest while working with bees. A beekeeper must constantly provide funds to maintain the apiary (for the purchase of medicines, materials, tools).

In time, a beekeeper who gained some experience decide to extend their little beehive project into an in-house apiary. Obviously, in possible, you can put up more hives housing bee families in your garden. You can have as many as a couple dozen hives, however due to feeding constraints, there should be no more than 40 families in one place. Products from such a bee farm exceed the needs of the beekeeper so he or she may start to sell honey. The apiary starts to maintain itself and the owner may expect some excess funds and profit. However, managing an apiary including several dozen beehives is more labour-consuming, which you may still like but due to its intensity and related responsibility, it is hart to call it a hobby anymore.

The line between amateur and professional beekeeping is not clear-cut. Literature (“Jak założyć pasiekę” [How to Start an Apiary] Wojewódzki Związek Pszczelarzy w Krakowie, eds: W. Kluczewski, A. and S. Staszewscy) indicates that a commercial (industrial) apiary starts at 50 bee families. With such a large number of families, you need to run apiaries in a number of places or have a migratory apiary where bees are transported to specific crops. A commercial apiary is kept for profit. In addition to honey and wax (most popular bee products), the beekeeper obtains bee bread, bee glue (propolis), apitoxin, pollen and royal jelly. Running such an apiary becomes the primary professional activity for the keeper and frequently requires the help of co-workers.

migratory apiary is run for commercial purposes/for profit. Beehives are made of lightweight materials (such as plastics, styrofoam). Bees are transported to large crop areas, depending on the times of blooming and honeying of plants. Usually, bees are taken to crops of agricultural origin (rape, buckwheat, sunflower, lavender) and natural crops (such as linden or heather).

Urban apiaries Despite the fact that urban apiaries are stationary, we internally feel that urban beekeeping extends beyond traditional apicultural typologies. Beehives in cities are rarely found in gardens or parks. For reasons of safety (of bees and people alike), hives are kept on rooftops, balconies or other elevations. There are more than 2 million people living in the very centre of Paris. Man has taken up every piece of free space there. It might seem there was no place for complex insect communities such as bee colonies in such an urbanised area. Yet, apiaries are a permanent part of the French metropolis’ landscape. You can see hives at the Notre Dame Cathedral, next to the Louvre, the Lafayette Gallery or on the roof of the Garnier Opera that is said to be housing more than 200,000 bees. Several years ago, bees also made their way to the centre of Warsaw and settled on the roof of the Agora publishing house building and the Focus office building. Bee expansion began from the capital city of Poland. Today, urban apiaries are present in almost every larger city.

Meet our young friends Karolina and Sławek who live and work in a big city, and want to share their story. For a few days, they have been listening to fascinating stories about the life of honey bees. We pestered them ad nauseam with our stories of how amazing were bees and how important and complex is the system of a bee family. After a week, they began to think about starting their own apiary. The idea developed in their minds for a couple of days. They looked for information on managing an apiary. For them, people aged below 30, the Internet proved an invaluable source of information.

In order to be able to start an apiary, you need some basic knowledge of bees. You can acquire this knowledge usually from someone who already has an apiary. It is also a good idea to get involved in helping someone to manage their apiary. This will provide you with the basic knowledge and a mentor that will always be willing to clarify any doubts you may have. You should also learn the theory of apiculture. As a beekeeper-to-be, you need to read a lot. There are many textbooks, guides and magazines available on the market that explore many issues related to managing your own apiary and breeding bees. The Internet is another rich source of information about bees. There is plenty of expert advice available online and Internet forums for beekeepers provide help on almost any problem you may encounter when running your own apiary.

Proper theoretical background in bee family biology will help you understand the problems you may face when working with your beehives. This kind of knowledge will help you find the proper solutions. A beekeeper who is only starting his or her journey with bees, must be patient and ready for failures that happen to even the most experienced professionals.

Beekeeping is a seasonal activity, which means that the apiary requires your attention only a couple of times during a year. Experience and proficiency in working at the apiary are gained over a long time of having your own beehives. Every beginner beekeeper who did not have the opportunity to gain experience and knowledge at a large and professionally managed apiary should start their bee business with a couple of hives. Experience gained over one season will be corrected by variable weather conditions in the following year. Consequently, the entire learning process may be prolonged.


Lech Dzięgielewski

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